Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have traded accusations over the former’s decision to include certain Jewish holy sites in the West Bank to its list of national heritage sites. The sites in question are Rachel’s Tomb (Bethlehem) and the Cave of the Patriarchs (Hebron), both of which are also venerated by Muslims.
For the Palestinian leader, Netanyahu’s decision is "a serious provocation” that delays peace talks and could further poison relations between the two peoples. For Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office, Abbas is conducting “a false and hypocritical campaign. [. . .] Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs are burial sites of Israel's forefathers [. . .] and are definitely worthy of preservation and renovation."
The Cave of the Patriarchs, which Muslims call the al-Ibrahim Mosque, is said to contain the remains of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. For decades, the site has been a source of tensions. About 500 Jewish settlers live nearby, in a Palestinian city of 170,000. In 1994, a Jewish settler killed 29 Palestinian worshippers. Since then, the place has been divided into areas for each group.
Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife, is said to be buried at a site near Bethlehem. It too has been the source of conflict.
Israel's West Bank barrier juts far into Bethlehem so that the tomb is located on the Israeli side, and this, for Palestinians, constitutes a land grab.
Jewish settlers and nationalists, who oppose giving up control of any of the West Bank, said they were pleased with Mr Netanyahu's announcement and that they would press for additional biblical sites to be added to the list.